Global Development Institute Blog

Anna Thurlbeck, Postgraduate Researcher, Global Development Institute

Taking place on the 5th and 6th of May, this year’s PGR Conference centred around the theme of multidiscipliniarity, chosen to put a spotlight on the extensive breadth of research being undertaken in the School of Environment, Education and Development. In an increasingly complex world, with challenges manifesting themselves on a global scale, it is more important than ever that our solutions to those challenges embrace a wide range of ideas, philosophies and perspectives.

Significant Contribution

As a multidisciplinary institution, SEED is in a unique position to make a significant contribution to that effort through the research emerging from the five distinct specialisms within the school, such as the work being conducted within GDI. One of the most important sources of innovation and fresh thinking is the large PGR community within GDI and SEED. Organised by a committee of PGR students, the purpose of the conference was to highlight the cutting-edge research being conducted by that community and to bring everyone together after a challenging couple of years. The conference took place for the first time in a hybrid format at the Manchester Meeting Place venue and over Zoom.

Day 1

Kicking off the conference was the SEED Director of Postgraduate Research Professor Laura Black, who gave a motivating speech about multidiscipliniarity within the school. The first keynote speech was given by Professor Linda Evans, which focused on the importance of rigour within research. She gave an engaging presentation that delved into the importance of recognising how conceptualisation and interpretation of certain terms may differ between people and the impact that this may have on construct validity.

The rest of the morning on Day 1 proceeded with three simultaneous panels of presentations by second and third year PGR students. Encompassing themes ranging from gender, migration to sustainable development, the panels included a number of fascinating presentations by PGRs within GDI. Amongst others, presentations focused on the political mobilisation of Venezuelan migrants, the role of institutional investors in climate and sustainable development finance and on value co-creation in smart tourism ecosystems in China.

After lunch, Dr Bee Hughes gave an invigorating keynote speech on the challenges of conducting doctoral research and referenced the work of the philosopher Hannah Arendt in her discussion of the concepts of labour, work and action. Following this, there was an online poster session that enabled first year PGRs and second year counselling psychology students to explain and answer questions about their research. It was a valuable opportunity for PGRs to gain insight into the work of their cohorts and potentially spark new ideas!

Day 2

The second day commenced with a thought-provoking speech by Professor Uma Kothari, a professor of Migration and Postcolonial Studies at GDI. Drawing upon a mixture of research and personal experiences, she spoke on the topic of decolonising development and on the critical importance of stories and storytelling in that process of opening up a new alternative way of thinking. Her speech touched up the necessity of de-centring research approaches that insist upon research without passion, on the recent decolonisation protests and on the importance of the past in the pursuit for justice.

The day proceeded with another set of three panels, based on themes of economic development, education and cross-cutting research. Some of the presentations by GDI PGRs included an examination of the U-shaped female labour force function in economic development, trader upgrading in global value chains and a discussion of universal human suffering and humanitarian principles in the post-Cold War era.

After lunch, a final set of three panels covered themes related to urban planning, governance and political economy. GDI presentations encompassed a wide range of topics, including the socio-spatial impact of mining waste deposits on urban areas, religious nationalism and the politics of transparency and accountability in the extractive industries. The conference was closed out by Professor Laura Black, who emphasised the impressive breadth of research presented and announced the winners and runners-up of the abstract and poster competition.

Abstract Competition

First place and second place in the abstract competition went to Erika Garcia and Claudio Navarro Gonzalez respectively, who are both GDI PGRs! Erika’s abstract and presentation was titled “Financing a city, urban land management and progressive agendas: contradictory experiences from Medellin, Colombia”. Claudio’s abstract and presentation was titled “Revisiting Okun’s Law: Testing for asymmetric adjustment in Chile”. Congratulations to both of them!

Thank you to everyone who participated in the conference. It is hoped that the conference was a learning experience for those who attended, exposing them to perspectives and ideas they had never considered and encouraging them to think about the approaches they have adopted in their own research. With that in mind, here is a quote from Professor Uma Kothari’s keynote speech that summarises the importance of broadening perspectives:

“I’m reminded that I don’t want to do research that’s in the service of power, I’m reminded that I want to do research that’s in the service of criticism”



Note: This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole.